Some of the biggest challenges for any business are effectively managing interactions with prospects and converting prospects into customers. Follow-up with interested parties, or qualified leads, is often done in a sporadic, ad-hoc way. Typically, a salesperson will contact someone who has expressed interest and will attempt to set up an appointment. If the prospect is not “ready to buy”, the salesperson loses interest and the prospect slips through the cracks – even though they are likely to buy at some future point in time. According to a study by Gleanster Research, 50% of leads are qualified but not yet ready to buy now, and a study by SiriusDecisions found that 80% of prospects deemed “bad leads” by sales teams go on to buy within 24 months. Salespeople are compensated and evaluated for “closing now”, so nurturing future buyers is not viewed as a priority. Consequently, an organization is not engaged with a prospect throughout the decision making process, which reduces the probability of converting that opportunity into a sale. Enter Marketing Automation Marketing automation is a category of technology designed to facilitate intelligent, ongoing interaction with prospects so conversion rates are optimized with both now and future buyers. Once an inbound lead has been generated, the real work has only just begun. The ultimate objective, of course, is to make a sale, and this is done by guiding and educating (i.e. nurturing) the prospect through every phase of the decision making process. According to Forrester Research, lead nurturing is “a sustained relationship with influencers and decision-makers, through which relevant and valuable insight is delivered through integrated channels in a coordinated process, in exchange for increasing intimacy and influence.” A call from a salesperson may not be the appropriate response for the initial, opening stages of prospect engagement. Instead, early in the buying process, prospects are more inclined to explore options, prices, companies, industry trends, etc. on their own because this information is generally and readily available online. According to Scott Albro, CEO of Tippit, only in the “last third of today’s purchasing process do buyers want to engage with sales reps. This is a significant shift in prospect positioning and buying behaviour.” Marketing Automation Basics Meaningful and consistent lead nurturing is possible with the use of intelligent marketing automation technology that makes the right information (promotional messages, special offers, invitations to an event, product/service information, follow-up surveys, etc.) available at the right time for each prospect. The core elements of a marketing automation platform are:A marketing database is a centralized repository of all contact data (prospect or customer) and allows for detailed queries against contacts based on specific attributes. Contacts are tagged based on particular areas of interest. Tags can be applied in real-time based on behaviour (e.g. completing a web form), and contacts can be “scored” to determine which are most interested and therefore likely to buy. Contact data can be secured from a number of sources: internal systems (e.g. point of sale), web forms, manual input, social media platforms, email systems, etc.Following up with prospects and customers at precisely the right time, with the right information, can be automated to a large extent. There is no substitution for human interaction, but it is difficult to maintain the level of “touches” required to develop credibility and trust through just human contact. Marketing automation systems have the ability to automate follow-up based on triggers (e.g. prospect responding to a call to action) or events (e.g. number of days after attending a seminar). Businesses must develop process maps that detail appropriate follow-up sequences, and these sequences are then automated so they occur consistently and effortlessly – without anything slipping through the cracks. The nature and frequency of the communication will vary depending on the type of prospect and complexity of the sales cycle. However, the premise remains; workflow automation allows for the right information to be communicated to prospects or customers at precisely the right time.Marketing automation systems have integrated email distribution systems so follow-up communication can be executed though one system. There is no need to query against a stand-alone database and upload results into a separate email distribution system – the contact database and email distribution technology are contained within the same platform and therefore work seamlessly together. Marketing automation systems include the ability to create email templates and to embed links in emails that can be tracked for analytical purposes.Insight about prospects and customers can be gleaned from their online activities; marketing automation systems incorporate methods to capture this valuable insight. It can then be used to “score” or “tag” prospects or customers based on their preferences or specific areas of interest. This information can be gathered though sources such as web forms, links in emails, contests on social media sites, or online surveys. By tapping into these sources of information and learning more about individual prospects and customers, businesses can be targeted in their communications thereby enhancing their overall value and credibility. These systems allow businesses to move much closer to one to one marketing.Marketing automation technologies include analytical tools that allow businesses to track things such as email open rates, click-throughs to landing pages, how many times people have clicked on a certain link, bounce rates on landing pages, and reference source activity (e.g. links from social media). By tracking these key indicators in virtually real time, businesses can make adjustments to their lead nurturing activities to optimize results. Analytics allow online marketing efforts to be “living and breathing”, so refinements can be made as insight is gained. Analytics also allow for testing (as an example, split-testing on email subject lines) so tactics can be gauged for effectiveness. Based on test results, changes can be made to improve overall performance and return on investment. Marketing Automation Options There are many marketing automation tools available, some more sophisticated than others. The good news is this class of technology is accessible to companies of all sizes. Marketing automation platforms are typically cloud-based. Examples of marketing automation system providers include Marketo, Infusionsoft, Act-On, and Pardot. Marketing automation technology is a powerful tool that can be used to enhance relationships with prospects through the decision making process. By automating these activities, measuring results, and making the necessary refinements, organizations will inevitably increase their conversion rates – which makes an investment in marketing automation systems worthwhile. About Core Online Marketing: Core helps businesses grow through the strategic use of online marketing. Core acts as an outsourced marketing team; engaging in planning, implementing online tools and technologies and providing on-going execution support for all online tactics.
- Marketing Database
- Workflow Automation
- Email Distribution
- Gathering Insight/Preferences